ByÂ JEFF ZELENY, The New York Times
One day after former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska declined to throw her hat into the ring to become the Tea Party movementâ€™s choice to lead the Republican National Committee, a leading Tea Party group threw its support behind Saul Anuzis of Michigan.
Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, announced in a statement on Tuesday that he was supporting Mr. Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Mr. Phillips said the leadership race was a critical â€œbattle for the heart and soulâ€ of the party.
â€œCapturing the chairmanship of the R.N.C. is important to the Tea Party movement,â€ Mr. Phillips wrote in a letter to the members of his group, one of the largest Tea Party organizations in the country. He added: â€œWe need a conservative in as chair of the R.N.C. If not, we will end up with the same class of G.O.P. knuckleheads that blew it so badly in 2006 and 2008.â€
The fight for control of the Republican National Committee has highlighted the tensions and divisions between members of the partyâ€™s establishment and newly emboldened activists within the Tea Party movement.
The current chairman, Michael Steele, has not yet said whether he intends to seek a second term, but at least half a dozen potential candidates are said to be ready to run. The outcome of the chairmanâ€™s race, which will be determined by the 168 members of the national committee, will offer a window into how the uneasy alliance of the coalitions inside the Republican Party plays out.
The Tea Party Nation does not have a formal vote and it remains an open question how many members of the committee will take their cues from Tea Party leaders. But each of the potential candidates to lead the Republican National Committee are courting support from Tea Party activists.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, became the latest contender for national chairman. A former ally of Mr. Steele, he announced his intention to seek the position in a video message and letter to members of the committee on Monday.
â€œIf youâ€™re looking for someone with an inflated ego or a person who thinks they know it all, thatâ€™s not me,â€ Mr. Priebus said in a video message. â€œBut if you want a conservative who isnâ€™t afraid to stand on principle, be a gracious and inclusive leader and isnâ€™t afraid of hard work, Iâ€™d be honored to serve.â€
Other potential candidates for the top Republican job include: Gentry Collins, the former political director at the Republican National Committee; Ann Wagner, a longtime Missouri Republican who served as an ambassador to Luxembourg in the Bush administration; Maria Cino, a former Bush administration official, who is supported by former Vice President Dick Cheney; and Mike Duncan, who preceded Mr. Steele as party chairman.
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